A “green standard” brings a new era of sustainability for the global rice sector

 Astari Widya Dharma   |  

The Sustainable Rice Platform is a promising tool for strengthening Southeast Asia’s rice sector by promoting sustainable rice value chains globally.

A third-party agency audits the sustainability of SRP farmers in Thailand. (Photo by ©Astari Widya Dharma, GIZ BRIA)

A third-party agency audits the sustainability of SRP farmers in Thailand. (Photo by ©Astari Widya Dharma, GIZ BRIA)

Rice is an important source of food for more than half of the global population and is therefore of extreme public and political importance. Its production provides vital food security and employment to millions of some of the world’s poorest people. However, in many countries, the rice value chain lacks appropriate production, processing, and marketing structures, and is restrained by the inefficient and environmentally hazardous use of resources.

Global consumers are increasingly aware of sustainable rice production, food safety, and climate change. These issues affect most parts of the agricultural sector, including the rice sector. Promoting good agricultural practices and proper technologies and facilitating better access to high-quality farm inputs are vital to increasing the productivity and livelihood of farmers.

Promoting sustainable rice value chains
In helping to strengthen Southeast Asia’s rice sector, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), in cooperation with private agricultural companies, launched the Better Rice Initiative Asia (BRIA), a public-private partnership project, to improve smallholder farmers’ livelihoods and food security by improving rice value chains in Southeast Asia. The German International Cooperation Agency, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), was appointed as the implementer for BRIA.

This regional project began in 2013 and is being implemented in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. It identifies problems and seeks solutions to increase farmers’ livelihoods by promoting sustainable rice value chains globally and achieving food security. BRIA focuses on farmers’ capacity building, multi-stakeholder partnerships, and providing policy recommendations for the scaling up of BRIA’s interventions.

A sustainable philosophy and standard
BRIA actively supported the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) and tests its SRP standard with local government authorities and private partners. The BRIA philosophy states that the SRP standard can be used as a framework to ensure the sustainable production and supply chain of products. It supports good-quality and safe food for a wide range of consumers, and it is also used as a monitoring tool to assess the sustainability of BRIA farmers’ farming practices. SRP members and users of the standard agree on the importance of a collaborative approach toward sustainability.

The standard has, so far, fulfilled its promise as a helpful tool for assessing the sustainability performance of rice farmers. Moreover, it demonstrated its potential value when used in conjunction with the performance indicators as an impact monitoring tool to assess risk and identify areas for improvement.

Field agronomists interview Filipino farmers Iloilo Province about their current farm practices in establish benchmark information (Photo: GIZ)

Field agronomists interview Filipino farmers Iloilo Province about their current farm practices in establish benchmark information (Photo: GIZ)

Filling the GAP
BRIA has taken several approaches in the adoption of the SRP tool.

In all four of its project countries, BRIA seeks to support farmers by developing training materials on good and sustainable agricultural practices (GAP), referring to local policies and recommendations in support of local research institutes and government experts on rice. The SRP is seen as complementary to existing GAP standards or recommended practices in the rice sector. In 2016, all GAP training materials were assessed on the basis of SRP standard topics. Up to 70−80% of the topics within the SRP standard have been covered in the BRIA training materials.
The standard can be used as a benchmark tool for farmer compliance and/or a benchmark for farmers’ best practice recommendations or other rice farming standards. Eventually, the standard can be adapted into the current system to improve the recommended practices and the national standard. With the revised recommended practices that have been added to fill the gaps in the SRP standard, farmers will be trained in farming practices and in devising a framework for organizing farmer groups.

Apart from adoption in a group management structure, farmers are capacitated to conduct peer reviews as an internal control system. When the farmers have understood the standard thoroughly, and are able to conduct self-assessments, it will be easier for farmers to connect with other stakeholders, especially buyers. The ideal arrangement would be where market linkages exist and farmers receive an economic benefit from better quality products. Adoption focuses mainly on the verification system although some buyers require a third-party audit for the verification and credibility of the compliance.

GIZ carries SRP tools into action
BRIA Thailand, BRIA Philippines, and BRIA Indonesia have been actively participating in the SRP pilot testing.

In Vietnam, BRIA and the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development conducted a benchmark study among Rice Viet GAP, Global GAP standard, and SRP standard. It concluded that the SRP standard has more potential for wider adoption in Vietnam and could bring better recognition in international trade. It is hoped that this recommendation will be carried further by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. (See The SRP in Vietnam .)

In Indonesia, an assessment survey was carried out by a local university in the third quarter of 2016 in North Sumatra Province. According to this self-evaluation, BRIA Indonesia farmers have complied, with an average score of almost 69% against the standard. The result of this study will later form a policy recommendation to the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture for possible adoption of the SRP standard.

In the Philippines, 68 farmers have piloted the SRP standard in Iloilo Province. The International Rice Research Institute conducted a farmer survey in January 2017 that revealed an average of 65−70% compliance toward the SRP standard. The result will be used as a policy recommendation to the Department of Agriculture for potential use of the standard as a monitoring tool for sustainable rice farming practices in the Philippines. (See The SRP in the Philippines.)

In Thailand, the pilot testing covers an assessment of the applicability of the standard, farmer training, and the establishment of an internal management system as a farmer-level assurance system. (See The SRP in Thailand.)
Ms. Dharma is the regional project coordinator at GIZ BRIA.

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